Friday, 12 May 2017

Lessons of the Local Elections (7) The Real Task Is To Rebuild A Fighting Labour Movement

The Real Task Is To Rebuild A Fighting Labour Movement

In France, as I wrote recently, socialists could not call for a vote for Macron. The real task there is to rebuild the labour movement, and prepare for a fight whoever won the Presidential Election. The day after his election, thousands of workers were on the streets of Paris protesting against his right-wing plans for attacking workers rights and conditions.  A starting point will be to select socialist candidates prepared to organise such a fight, to stand in the elections to the Assembly, and local government positions. The same is true in Britain.

From the first day that Corbyn was elected, there has been a concerted campaign by the old right-wing within the PLP, and council chambers across the country to undermine him, and remove him, overriding the massive majority of the party that elected him. They have been helped in their activity by the Tory media. But, they must also have been encouraged by the failure of Corbyn and the party leadership to actively confront them, and instead, at every step, to accommodate to them. It is a far cry from the ruthless way in which the right act against the left in the party whenever they have the opportunity.  The right are operating as a party within a party, with their own high profile spokespeople such as McTiernan who lose no opportunity to appear on TV to attack the party during the election campaign.  They have their own well funded organs and organisations.  If that were the left, as during the 1980's, under Kinnock, that would have got you expelled, and any branches you controlled shut down

When it was first suggested that Corbyn might stand for the leadership I argued that the danger would be to see things in terms of some new saviour, rather than what is actually required, which is to rebuild the labour movement on a solid foundation from the ground up. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised when Corbyn's nomination sparked what appeared to be such a renovation, as hundreds of thousands of new members flooded into the party.

Yet, the evidence, on the ground, is that a large part of this new membership is largely passive. In some areas, it has resulted in changes in party control, and indeed, in some of those areas, like Brighton, and Wallasey, the right-wing have been quick to use the party machinery to close down CLP's, to reinstate old right-wing branch officials etc. But, the failure to nominate left delegates to last year's conference, the fact that the right still have control over the NEC and so on suggest that this vast new membership is not being used effectively.

It should have been possible in the year and a half since Corbyn was elected to have had slates of candidates for all party positions throughout the country. There should have been pools of candidates ready to take up positions on Councils, and as PPC's, where the old right have their power base, and through which they have a channel directly to the Tory media. It hasn't happened.

The leadership said at the end of last year that they were putting the party on a General Election footing. In that case, a Manifesto should have been ready to be printed as soon as May called the election, and proceedings should have been started in every CLP to select new candidates more in tune with the current party. Instead, we were told that there was no time to hold selection meetings and that sitting MP's would get a free pass. Why, if the party has been on an election footing for the last six months?  And where sitting MP's have stood down, even then we don't get proper shortlisting and selection, but shortlists imposed from the NEC.

And, now we see Labour MP's like John Woodcock come out as soon as the election is called, and gratuitously shout to the media that he could not vote for Corbyn to become Prime Minister; we have the Tory media day after day telling stories of unnamed Labour MP's who are tramping the streets telling voters that they do no support Corbyn, but vote for them, because Corbyn will never become Prime Minister; we have right-wing MP's like Stephen Kinnock using every media opportunity they have, even when election results are reasonable, claim that the good results are nothing to do with Corbyn, and would have been better without him.  We have former advisors meeting with Theresa May - the channels already having been opened by all those former Labour MP's under Blair who have gone to work for Cameron over the last few years - and talk of setting up a new parliamentary party after the election.  And then these people ask why Labour is polling badly!

Is it any surprise that with such a barrage of propaganda, and fermentation of splits within Labour ranks, by these right-wing figures, who clearly have no qualms about destroying the party to further their own narrow interests, that Labour has poor poll results, or that when interviewed in vox pops voters give negative assessments of Corbyn. Its rather like a friend of mine many years ago, who told me about a discussion he had with his mum, who had commented that the Queen Mother was a lovely woman. “Oh I didn't realise you knew her that well, or had even met her,” he said. “Well, no, I haven't she replied.”

The strategy is quite clear. It is to endlessly press home the idea that Corbyn is useless, and so however, much people actually like him, or like the policies he proposes, this overriding message will prevail. So long as our politics is based upon the current superficial foundations, such strategies have a good chance of working. But, it can only work in the very short term, as will be seen with Macron in France.

If Corbyn were replaced tomorrow by say David Miliband, large swathes of the population would simply yawn. But, even were a Miliband Labour government to come into office, as with Macron in France, it would have no solutions. The soundbites would start to grate, very quickly, and as soon as the next election arrived, it would simply open the door to reaction of an even worse kind than that currently threatened by Theresa May and her Tory/UKIP government.  

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